Like Kim Kardashian or binge drinking, social media is both wonderful AND horrible. On the one hand, social media has given us all a chance to connect and look at pictures of what we’re doing. Right this second. All the TIME. On the other hand…
1. It’s changing us all into brands
Do you trust commercials for KFC and McDonald’s? Of course you don’t because you know they’re trying to sell you something. That beautiful fried chicken in the ad? It’s soggy in real life. That plump, juicy Big Mac? It’s not the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten and there won’t be a magical clown there to be your friend while you’re wolfing it down.
So, what happens when the average person becomes a brand?
At its most innocuous, we get a false picture of everyone’s life. If you look at my Facebook pictures, they’re all of me traveling. I’m at the Eiffel Tower. Here’s me decked out with my hot ex-girlfriend at the Empire State Building. Woah, there’s me with Alcatraz in the background. You don’t see me right now — without a shower, wearing sweats and a t-shirt in a messy room, grinding out this column while my ex-girlfriend is probably plotting to murder me (just kidding, hahahah – well, as far as you know).
It has also led to an epidemic of virtue signaling, so we yell at the right people, conspicuously support the right causes, and want to be seen doing the right things. It’s turned authenticity from something most people used to have into something a few people are good at portraying. Fake isn’t better.
2. It’s destroying attention spans and making us shallow
How many people are living life through their social media instead of the real world? It’s so bizarre to see people facing away from the action to get a selfie or ignoring their friends or dates to check Twitter. It’s rude to look at your cell phone when you’re at dinner with someone, but we pretend like it’s not because we all do it at one time or another. But, if you can’t make it through a twenty-minute conversation without checking the beeps, whizzes, and bings coming from your phone, you have a problem. Sadly, most people have that problem. They have a phone full of social media apps designed by people who were paid large amounts of money because they know how to get your attention. Sitting down to work, reading a book, or doing almost anything for a few hours straight is nearly impossible for many people not just because there is always some “like,” retweet or new message to see, but because we have gotten used to consuming information in tiny, entertaining chunks. There are a lot of things in life that can’t be summed up in 140 characters or in a Facebook meme and unfortunately, if it doesn’t work for social media, many publications have simply given up on publishing it at all. We may be getting more information than ever before because of social media, but most of it is snark, memes, or dumb comments instead of the longer, more in-depth material we need to become wiser.
3. It’s cutting us off from alternative views
Social media companies want to keep you happy because if you’re happy, you will keep coming back to their websites. So what’s more likely to make you happy? A well-written piece by someone who disagrees with you and challenges what you believe or well-written propaganda that supports what you already believe is true? If you think it’s #1, you are probably lying to yourself. What most people call “truth telling” is someone who repeats back to them what they already believe to be true. Additionally, that’s what they like and share on social media. As someone who has run a large conservative website, I can tell you that if I would have written articles that said nice things about Obama or Hillary, not only would they have bombed, I’d have gotten nothing but grief from my audience for writing it in the first place. If you think it’s any different for a liberal writing nice things about Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, you’re kidding yourself. In other words, whatever our biases, beliefs, or prejudices happen to be, they are constantly reinforced by social media.
4. It’s turning us into a-holes
The main idea behind diversity is supposed to be that as we spend more time around people who are different from us, we find out how similar we all are at heart and learn to like each other. Unfortunately, when we’re dealing with lots of anonymous people and others who are acting like jackasses in hopes of being noticed, all we learn is that people who are different from us are horrible people. And what do you do when confronted with a horrible person who calls you a racist, a Nazi, or unpatriotic? Many people behave horribly in return, which convinces even more people on the other side that everyone who disagrees with them is a cross between Satan and Adolf Hitler. Online, every trivial difference is turned into WWIII and it’s easy to find yourself behaving like the world’s biggest ass because some person you don’t know or care about on the internet said something obnoxious.
5. We’re allowing Silicon Valley weirdos to guide how we think
B.F. Skinner was a famous psychologist who specialized in behaviorism and he once said, “Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything.” Skinner believed that if you control the environment and stimulus that a child is receiving, then you control what he does. There is an awful lot of truth to this as military recruits and cult members could tell you. So, what happens when much of the information you see is controlled by algorithms written by people with agendas? When you look at tweets, Facebook and do a Google search, you don’t get the information in chronological order, you get the information they want you to see. If they want you to think everybody should have a gay pet duck, suddenly you’ll be constantly seeing messages about gay ducks and you’ll think, “Gee, when did having gay ducks as a pet become so hip and trendy?” Well, it didn’t actually become hip and trendy; you just have the false impression that it did because someone else controls the flow of information you see. Sure, the idea of gay ducks is a laughable subject. But, how about which party you should vote for in the next election? Gun rights? Abortion? Religion? How do you like the idea of some SJW engineer with a Che shirt on and a Noam Chomsky book on his desk controlling what information you see about those subjects with the algorithms he writes for a monopolistic employer? That’s pretty much where we’re at and if it doesn’t alarm you, it should.
6. It creates freaks, weirdos, and deviants
I once read a column by a guy named Zack Parsons at Something Awful that stuck with me. Here’s an excerpt,
Since I took this gig writing for Something Awful almost three years ago I have encountered an increasing volume of perversity on the Internet as part of my job description. I’ve gone from randomly encountering it, to actively seeking it out for the purposes of mockery. I’ve found individuals and groups that have sexualized things like sneezing, farting, popping balloons, inflating latex or rubber body suits, and most frequently, I’ve encountered furries.
…I’ve talked about how the Internet enables pedophiles, furries, and others to congregate and share ideas, but I only briefly touched on the most important aspect of this. In the endless expanse of communications the Internet is, probably the greatest and most terrible gift it offers to furries, pedophiles, and others, is the ability to shut themselves off from the mainstream. They huddle in cloisters that are virtually unassailable by the outside world and whisper encouraging things to one another that would be nearly impossible to say in real life. Free from the pressures of society to conform to a boring standard they go in the exact opposite direction, externalizing things that are roughly as far from “normal” as can be expected. Then, within their protected virtual enclaves, they declare these things to be the norm. By declaring their perversions, mores, and general imbecility to be their own status quo they have simultaneously validated their own existence and demonstrated the inferiority of outsiders.
A sense of belonging and community is disturbing and sad in the hands of furries and downright dangerous in the hands of pedophiles. Nonetheless, this is what the Internet has given to these groups, and it can be both a peril to the members and, in the case of menaces like pedophiles, a peril to the rest of us.
No matter how warped your views are, you can find legions of other people on social media who agree with you. This enables people with strange, off-putting, or horrific views to cocoon themselves off from the “normies” and feel accepted. All that might be fine except that girl you want to date, those people at work, and those people over there that you want to hang out with are all “normies.” In other words, you’re cutting yourself off and going ever deeper down the rabbit hole. This is not good. This is not healthy. This is not something we should want to encourage.